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Behind the Scenes of B2B eCommerce

In Episode 8, we find out what makes B2B so special, and why an outstanding platform is a powerful ally.

Welcome to The eCommerce Experience - the podcast that turns YOU into an eCommerce expert. Your host, Andrew Rogencamp, shares his wealth of B2B and B2C business experience to take you on an eCommerce adventure.

Each month you'll hear from industry experts and meet people just like you - looking to take their business to new heights online.

Andrew Rogencamp:
 Welcome to The eCommerce Experience, this is Episode 8. And this week, we're having a chat to Bri Vernon-Cox, who's the eCommerce Manager for a company called Bunzl Safety. So, quite a large company here in Australia that is dealing largely with safety products and into some very large businesses; some of the largest companies in Australia or in the world, in fact.

So, yeah, we have a chat to Bri and we just talked a lot about B2B eCommerce, to be honest. Here's the chat.

B2B eCommerce in Australia

Andrew: Okay, Bri, thanks for joining us. And we really appreciate your time. Can you tell me a little bit about Bunzl Safety’s business?

Bri: Yeah. So, Bunzl Safety is actually made up of two parts or two divisions. So, we've got our Direct-to-Customer component, which is the Bunzl Safety side and then we've also got our reseller side where we supply products to resellers who onsell our products to customers. So, it's an interesting dynamic to have the both of those.

And then within our direct side, our business is formed from businesses that have been sort of brought up and bought into Bunzl Safety.

Andrew: Right. So, the acquisitions.

Bri: So, we also had Robertson’s, Lifting and Rigging. We had Workwear. And so, it's sort of been a few companies over time rolled up into one. And yeah, that's been an interesting challenge, even in terms of like web presences and things like that. But that's briefly a little bit about what makes up our company.

But we do safety supplies; everything from footwear, workwear, PPE, as well as lifting and rigging, height safety. So, yeah, it's sort of head to toe as well as environmental and site safety and everything in between.

Andrew: Okay. Sounds good. I always say 'PPE' was a term that not really people knew what it meant six months ago, but I think everybody knows what people PPE means these days. It's interesting how that’s coming to the front.

Bri: Yeah.

Andrew: You know, you can hear on the news something about PPE supplies. And if you if you said that six months ago, nobody would know what you're talking about.

Bri: Yeah.

Andrew: So, in terms of eCommerce, how long has Bunzl Safety been active in eCommerce and how did the journey start?

Bri: So, Bunzl Safety, because before there was Bunzl Safety, as I said, there were the other sort of companies. I think the Bunzl Safety website - it predates my time with Bunzl Safety - but I think it's probably around the five-year mark I think, for Bunzl Safety specifically.

But before that, there was the Robertson's website, which was an eCommerce site, and I believe that was worked on with you guys, with Commerce Vision, as well. And so, that was prior to the five years that Bunzl Safety has sort of had a web presence that I was around.

And there was also the Worksense one, there was a limited web offering with that. So, it's sort of been evolved where it is now over that period of time.

Andrew: And so, you've obviously got a B2B side in there and a B2C side?

Bri: Yeah, that's right. So, we do have B2C capabilities. So, someone can immediately sign up and pay for stuff with their credit card. It isn't something that we actively pursue, but we definitely have it there.

Andrew: Because there's a lot of players in that market like RSEA and stuff like that, that have got bricks and mortar.

Bri: That's right.

And also, as a business, and this is something that I've spoken about internally with my teams as well, if we want to do B2C, it's a completely different way of handling things, in terms of how quickly we dispatch orders, the payment offerings...

Andrew: It's going to be a different consumer journey and all of that sort of stuff. Yeah.

Bri: Yeah. And so, if we want to do it, we need to do it properly. It's not something you can sort of just have off to the side. You need to be actively working towards it. And if we want to do that, that may be something that we choose to do in the future. But for the moment, it's there, but our main priority and the customers that we really want to service are our B2B.



B2B for Manufacturing and Distribution

Andrew: Right. Okay. And it sounds like in terms of B2B, you've really got, and I speak about, I think it was my very first podcast, those two flavours of B2B; you've got that wholesale and distribution one, and then that one where you're dealing directly with customers that are consuming those products in their business as usual, in their MRO type spend and things like that.

Bri: Yeah, that's right. And so, what we see a lot in our reseller side, our B2B, I'm not even sure if there's a different acronym for it, but our B2B reseller side, they're often small sort of stores. They might have a few stores in their chain, but generally, there are people on the shop floor that are also doing the ordering and our reps are in contact with them.

And then conversely, on the other side, the B2B, where it's the really big companies, you're dealing with safety managers or you might be dealing with procurement managers and things like that. So, very different expectations, very different ways of using our sites and very different things that they want to get out of it as well.

Andrew: So, you talked a little bit before about that B2C thing where to go for that B2C market, you've really got to do it properly. So, I often bang on about the differences between B2B and B2C. How do you see the differences in B2B and B2C?

Bri: Yeah.

Andrew: It's not really just accepting an order on an account, is it?

Bri: No, it's hugely different. And probably before I had this role, I'd done some B2B, but it was more in a reseller capacity or selling to very small sort of businesses that were using the products for themselves. And so, before I got to this level, I probably would have thought, “Oh, yeah, there's some differences, but can it really be that different?” And it is. It is. It is. There's no two ways about it. It's very different.

And so, for me, some of the differences for B2C versus B2B - with B2B, the expectations around the capabilities, the site needs to do so many more things that you just wouldn't even think about. Whereas with B2C, the expectations are more around shipping, lead times, payment options, discount codes...

Andrew: It's sort of like in B2C, I think the site really controls the narrative of what you want to deliver, whereas what I've seen in B2B is often the customer' is controlling the narrative of what they want to do if you want their business.

Bri: Yeah, yeah, there's definitely that. And also, so much of the important functionality is behind the scenes. It's not immediately obvious with our website the things that it can do. It's sort of a tip-of-the-iceberg situation. You can see some of it, but you won't really understand its full capabilities until you're in using a specific set up or you're being talked through the options for X, Y and Z.

Whereas with a B2C site, you can get a gauge pretty quickly. If it's going to be a good site, if it's going to work for you, it's pretty straightforward, whereas that's not at all the case with a lot of the B2B things that we do.

And yeah, so even some of our B2B customers, they'll be on a specific type of offering, they'll be seeing the site in one specific way. And it's really complex. And that's just one of the things that we can do. Then a different company has a completely different set up with different options and things like that.

Andrew: Yeah. I think one of the things that people don't often realize is the fact that the sites being shown to them in such a simple way that, “Oh, that's my price.” They don't realize that they're only seeing the products that they're allowed to see and that there's 2 million business rules in the backend working all that out in 400 milliseconds!

Bri: Yeah, and all the tiny little things even down to one customer doesn't want their users to be able to enter their own address and another user might want them to be able to enter their address, but it needs to have rules applied to it about not allowing PO boxes and things like that.

Andrew: Yeah.

Bri: And multiply that times hundreds of customers and each one has their very own specific set of needs.

It's really interesting and different combinations of those things like, “We want X, but we don't want Y” where someone else wants X and Y, but not Z and things like that.

Andrew: Yeah. Interesting. So, are you using that capability to drive new business?

Bri: Absolutely. So, we recently released some flyers and they basically talk about the three eCommerce capabilities that we have. So, EDI, PunchOut and Custom Catalogues. And the flyers were to equip our sales team when they're speaking to new customers. They've sort of got like a one-page take away that explains just some of the options that we've got and obviously, there are combinations of all of those things.

But it is a really good selling point to new business and sometimes I'm involved with discussions with some of the potential customers.

Andrew: Yeah, especially PunchOut and things like that. 

Bri: Yeah. And it's something I think, especially in a B2B capacity, a lot of companies don't fully grasp it or aren't doing it to the same extent that we are. Or possibly, they've got the capacity, but they don't have someone that can sort of talk through it in the way that I can, which not to sort of oversell myself, but I think one of my strengths is, because I'm not a developer, I'm not technically skilled fto that extent, I know enough to know how much I don't know about that. But also understand, from a customer point of view, what they're trying to get at, what they really care about.

And making that translation between the two, I think, is important and something that you can't really overlook as a business. You really need your technical people; they need to make the things happen and you need your customer care, but you sort of need someone, which I feel is where I can come in, that sort of understands between the two. Enough technical, to let you know that we can do it, but not so technical that it goes over your head.

Andrew: Yeah.

Bri: I think finding that balance for new business is important.

Andrew: And I think from that sales person's point of view, there too, is that they --How do I say this, being nice to sales people, is that having somebody there like you that can say, “Yes, here's our capability”, I think gives the customer a lot of confidence rather than a salesperson saying, “Yeah, we can do anything you want in eCommerce. We've got a fantastic eCommerce website.” Not really knowing what they're promising there and just talking in generic terms.

But if I was a purchasing manager for BHP and they had somebody like you come in and say, “Here's a capability” and you started talking about PunchOut and all of these Custom Catalogues and all this sort of stuff, you'd start to go, “Yeah, these guys know their eCommerce.”

Bri: Yeah. And that they've got people there that can actually sort of make it happen.

And one of the things that we talk about with our sales team and one of the reasons that I'm increasingly more involved in those initial conversations, is sales teams are fantastic at what they do; at selling our products and things like that, but there's also a risk of them overselling what we can do. Or it's not even necessarily overselling it, but just not understanding the bounds of what we can do.

Andrew: Or even underselling. Even not saying “Did you know we have PunchOut? Did you know we can give you a Custom Catalogue? We can tailor it. We can have all these controls about what your users do."

Bri: Yeah. And also interpreting what customers think they want or they think is important and saying, “Well, it won't necessarily look like that, but you will get this, which will give you this instead. And that will allow you to do all of that.” And it turns out to be even better than what they thought.

Andrew: Yeah, exactly. Just giving the card a different way.

Bri: Yes.



The Cost Savings of an eCommerce Website 

Andrew: Yeah, yeah. Interesting. So, often, people think about -- I've spoken to people in the past who go, “Oh, I don't know about a B2B eCommerce website. I don't see it increasing my sales.”

And often, it can increase sales. You can sell on the back of an eCommerce website, on your capability. And one of the things I see it doing is that sometimes price doesn't come into play when you're selling on relationship and capability because you don't want to be in a race to the bottom with price.

But the other thing that an eCommerce site can do is have it drive cost savings in that supply chain, not just for Bunzl, but also for the customer.

Bri: Yeah. So, I think a cool example for us is we currently supply a local council with all of the workwear for their staff. Before, they were either calling up the specific branch that’s supplying them with their stuff or they'd be submitting paper orders or it would just be a mess of emails and things like that. We've actually got that council to order online.

And so, what happens is their administrators or whoever in the office will speak to the teams that are wearing the uniforms and the boots and things like that. They'll place those orders through a website. And then within an hour or two, they can say to the maintenance person, they can say, “Yep, head over to the Bunzl Safety branch, go and make sure that we've selected the right sizes and pick up your uniform within an hour.”

So, that's just a really cool example of how we've sort of streamlined it and the savings for them, in terms of the times and returns or even their staff ordering things in the branch that the administrators would have maybe said, “Look, you really only need two shirts. You don't need to be buying 10 shirts” and things like that, all of those sorts of blowouts in cost and supply.

As well as for us; we have a consolidated range available to them through the website. So, we can make sure that we keep those items stocked for them. We can supply it to them faster. It also means that it's easier for our teams to process the orders because their product codes are correct. They are coming through in the right quantities. Everything is neat and tidy. They're not taking a hand scrawled email or a form that someone has done a tick across in the same box and they're like, “Do they actually want that?” And all of those little things have saved them time.

And that's just one very specific example. There's so many across our supply chain and it's getting better all the time. The more people understand our capabilities and how that can translate to their customers from our sales team thinking about those things, I can only see that getting better.

Andrew: Yeah, sounds good. So, you know, I've dealt with lots of B2B sites and still do. And there's different levels of B2B. And I reckon, there's B2B and then there's Enterprise B2B. And if you think about all those features, I reckon Bunzl tick off a lot of them. What sort of features are you offering in the eCommerce area?

Bri: Yeah. So, we've got what I'd consider to be a pretty full suite of things to offer. Like you said, we've got our PunchOut, we've got full EDI capabilities, we've got Custom Catalogues, even within our Custom Catalogues, we've got so many features. Obviously, it's something that I'm pretty passionate about because it's something that I do all day.

So we can offer different levels of approval where, say an administrator is able to order up to X dollar amount, but this user can only order this dollar amount. Or we can say that this person's team has to submit their orders to that person to be approved before it can go through.

There's all the embroideries - that's a huge component of what we do, so that they can see the embroideries that they're going to get on their workwear, so that they can make sure it has the right logos, they can even put their name. What else have we got? There's a lot of things that they can do for themselves. So, they can do audit tracking within their portal. They can extract out data about who has ordered what, on what date. So, if someone comes in and -

Andrew: Yeah. So, it's more than just the ordering piece. It's more that customer self-service type of environment. Yeah.

Bri: Yeah, there's a lot of that. Because I know, even as good as my team is getting back to inquiries, that for myself as a user of other services, if I can do it for myself, that's even better. If I don't have to ask someone, if I can find all the answers for myself, then I like that even more.

I think having the infrastructure to allow people to do that is even better. Like you need great customer care and getting back to people. But if people can do it... you know, they've been out of the office at an appointment all day and they get back and they need to do something at 9:00 PM, they don't want to have to wait till the next morning for you to get back to them. And if you build that into that system for them, that's a huge thing.

Andrew: I've even seen with, I don't know if you guys do this, but I've seen a customer do it where they can limit the colours. So, you might have some high viz and the customer wants to say, “I only want this mining site to have orange high viz.”

Bri: Yeah.

Andrew: And interestingly, I know why that is now. So, I have one of the guys that recently started in our business worked at Tarong Power. And he said the reason they do that is that they know when somebody is onsite, based on what colour high viz they're wearing, whether they're an employee or a contractor.

Bri: That's really interesting.

Andrew: Yeah.

Bri: We definitely have a lot of that stuff within our custom catalogues. That's something that we do; colour exclusion. So, for example, we have one customer and on one of their sites they're only allowed orange/navy high viz, but one of their other sites, are only allowed yellow/navy high viz. And so, having those colours locked down is something that I probably could have never have conceived of before I started working in this role is that -

Andrew: The business rules are mind boggling, are they?

Bri: It's, yeah! And the different combinations of that... And this one is allowed to have brown boots, but this one's only allowed to have black boots. And this site is allowed to have a choice; they're very fancy. They're allowed to have whatever they like out of this selection.

Andrew: Interesting.

Bri: And so, having that locked down and making sure that those users are only buying what they're allowed to do. And as you said, it's essentially a safety thing as well, so that they know that this is someone who belongs to our site or if someone rocks up on site and they're not wearing the right thing, then they know that they potentially don't belong there.

And so, those colour exclusions, just an added layer of complexity to that (that I always love) is that on the orange/navy uniforms, we have the red version of our logo, but on the yellow/navy, we have the green version of our logo!

Andrew: Awesome. Okay, yeah. So, you can't mix embroideries. Different embroideries have to go with different colour shirts.

Bri: That’s right.

Andrew: So, if you choose the orange, you can only choose this embroidery.

Bri: That's right. And having that linked up so that the customer doesn't have to think about it for themselves, so that the person, if they're ordering for themselves, they don't have to go, “Oh, which one am I allowed to have?” and locking that in for them, so that they're always selecting the right thing.

We don't need to deal with returns that way. We don't need to worry about all of those sorts of things, locking that down to make it as easy and seamless as possible. That's a big part of what we do. And a really interesting part as well, I think.

Andrew: Yeah.

Bri: Yeah.



The Consistency of eCommerce

Andrew: Often, when I talk about eCommerce, there's nowhere to hide with eCommerce. So, you know, sometimes you come to a business and you'll go, I've even seen one business that we talked to once where we said, “Okay, how do you do your pricing?” “Oh, the reps just know the pricing for the customer.” And I just said, “Well, that's not going to fly in an eCommerce site.”

Bri: Yeah.

Andrew: So, there's a whole lot of things that I see in eCommerce sites that actually brings in disciplines into the backend that you would have never had, had you have not exposed those things to your customers. Because it's got to be defined, it's got to be set in a system somewhere and obeyed. And previously that was just in people's heads. Or when so-and-so orders, make sure you don't do this and make sure you do this. But that's all defined now.

Bri: And that's a big thing that even though I look at our eCommerce, that's also something that I talk about just with our internal teams in that the system that we use, Pronto, and things like that. I always say that nothing should have to rely on someone remembering it. Because people get new jobs; what if what if someone wins the lottery tomorrow and they're not here to teach them?

Andrew: (laughs) Yeah, or half the office isn't there?

Bri: Yeah. What if there's all of those things? So, we should build our system so that it functions no matter what; it's not reliant. Because even if someone stays within the team, they might have a lot on their mind that day.

We don't want our systems to operate like that. We want things documented. We want things built into the rules. We want all of those things to flow, so that they can't be left out, so the experience is consistent always.

Andrew: Absolutely. So, what are some of the challenges you've had with eCommerce over the years?

Bri: Something that I've found, sort of my whole career, is getting everyone in a business to buy in to the importance of it. I don't need everyone to have the same level of digital literacy that I do, but I need them to understand its importance and not just think it's a fun thing that you do on the side or it's an afterthought or something like that. It needs to be built into the basis of who you are as a business and what you care about and what you think is important.

And so, I think part of that as well is education. Like if people can't see the importance of something, have you as the eCommerce person done enough to talk about the benefits or the savings or those sorts of things?

So, I think it's two sided, but I think it's getting better. But it's yeah, it's definitely something that I've come up against - just getting people to care. I don't need them to necessarily care as much as I do, but just enough so that it's important to the business.

Andrew: I think over the years, like many years ago, sales reps in particular would see an eCommerce site as the enemy.

Bri: Yeah.

Andrew: But I think that's really changing now where they see the eCommerce site is really a weapon in their armoury that they can take to help them sell and to help them not discount. And, you know, I've never seen a sales rep lose their job because an eCommerce site has been implemented.

Bri: And that's what I say all the time, too. So, we spent a bit of time... We do internal training sessions with our sales and customer care teams. And I do those, every six weeks or so as well as lots of little one-on-ones and one-off sort of things when someone's going to be talking to a customer or they're trying to do something; that's a huge part of my job.

And I always say, “This website is not going to replace what you do. It may change the nature of how you do it, but we still need customer care. I shop online more than anyone, I think. And if a site doesn't have good customer care, doesn't have good salespeople, it is not a good site to me if I don’t have that.”

It's just sort of changing the nature. So, I definitely know that our website has been able to relieve our customer care teams. Because a lot of times, what they were doing was sort of manual order entry.

Andrew: Yeah, waste of time!

Bri: Yeah, it's not customer care - and that's what their skill set is. Good customer care is SO important and you don't have the mental or physical resources to devote to that if you're just punching in quantities into the screen.

Andrew: Correct.

Bri: So, that's really important as well. And so, I include that as part of every training session. Look, this is why we're doing this. Even though it may reduce the number of calls you get about manually putting in an order, you're still going to get the customers that want to know lots of things; they want advice about what product to choose.

Especially because a lot of what we do is quite technical. They want to know, “Well, I've got these two things. So, can you tell me how I'd best use X versus Y?” And yeah, that's a really important thing for everyone to understand as well.

Andrew: Cool. So, one of the things I often get asked is, what sort of skills am I going to need in my business to make eCommerce work? What's your opinion on that?

Bri: Are we talking about as an eCommerce person, like if you're --

Andrew: Yeah. So, if I'm new to eCommerce, I want to do B2B eCommerce, I want my customers to start ordering online. Do I need to go out and find a digital person or is it an eCommerce person or is it somebody with a mix of all of those skills, really?

Bri: Yeah. So, I think if you're brand new starting out and your business is relatively small, you can start on a smaller scale or you could get someone who has -- It depends, I suppose, on do you have a site already? Are you just starting out there?

Andrew: Yeah.

Bri: There's lots of things to consider. But I think having someone that gets digital, and I know that's a pretty broad thing, but you can ask questions like, “Does this person shop online themselves? What sites do they love? What sites do they hate?”

When I've interviewed people to bring into my team, that's actually a question that I ask. What sites don't you enjoy and why don't you enjoy them? And those answers are really interesting and telling.

I think also tangentially, if you can have someone who - and you can do this in a contract basis as well - but graphics, graphic design and things like that, it can't all just be sort of fluff and images. But at the same time, you'll be let down if your site doesn't have a professional feel to it. So, graphics is important.

And in terms of the digital person that you're looking for, it's not necessarily a specific one title or one name of a skill or anything like that. You really do need to talk to them, but you want to use terms like Digital, eCommerce, sometimes Digital Marketing or things like that, that can bring you someone that has something.

Or someone who has a strong background in data organization, but also has a little bit of a leaning towards digital and things like that, that can be quite helpful. They might have worked in customer care, but they've always had a passion for doing the digital side of things. Yeah, it's not the most straightforward thing.

Andrew: No. And I think I think it sort of speaks to the fact that eCommerce projects are company-wide projects. You can't silo. It's not like installing a new server; that's purely an IT project.

eCommerce can hit everybody from sales to marketing to even accounts receivable, in terms of

Bri: Category.

Andrew: Category.

Bri: Inventory.

Andrew: Merchandising and all of that.

Bri: Yeah.

Andrew: So, eCommerce is really, I guess, the exposure of your business to your customer through a digital platform. And therefore, by definition, there's skills across all elements that need to be taken into account.

Bri: Yeah.

Andrew: And it's very much the eCommerce role is working with those teams to ensure that what you're delivering to the customer is good for the customer and good for your business as well.

Bri: Yeah. And being able to take -- I think, something that I find is important is being able to talk to the people in the different things and explain to them why you need this thing from them, what it will end up looking like.

Andrew: Yeah.

Bri: Those sorts of things really get people on board. And understand, “I'm not just asking you to do this thing for the sake of it” or “We’re not just doing this so that we can start on a spreadsheet and never look at again. This is where it's going to end up. This is what we're doing with it.” And getting a little bit of excitement about it really helps people want to contribute.

And you're exactly right. I spend, well, not that we're in the office anymore, but when we were, especially when I first started, every end of the building down into the warehouse, even seeing how things go out, seeing what our packaging looks like, everything like that, what is included in our packages, you really do have to be across all areas of it and understand it at least.

Andrew: Sounds good. Hey Bri, thanks very much for taking the time out to talk to us today. Your knowledge is invaluable. I always enjoy chatting with you about eCommerce. We’re eCommerce nerds!

Bri: Yes. Thank you so much for asking me. It's been really good to be able to talk about these things. Clearly, I can talk for a long time about all of it. I'm passionate about it.

Andrew: All right. Thanks, Bri. See you!

Well, I hope you enjoyed that chat with Bri about eCommerce. I think she certainly has a great knowledge of B2B eCommerce and why it's very different from B2C and how the customers are different. And really, what sort of things you should be looking at with a really true enterprise-level, B2B eCommerce application.

That's it for this month. Probably won't be doing another podcast until the New Year now that we're coming into the Christmas period. So, thanks very much for listening to the podcast this year. And we'll see you back next year!


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